As in alcoholism…
what is the ism really?
I heard someone say that “ism” stood for “internal spiritual malady”. And that resonated with me. It is amazing to me that I spent so much of my young life searching for a spiritual solution: churches, religions, spiritual books and ideas, philosophy, poetry, authors, meditation. As a kid, I searched all those things to find what felt lacking in me, and then somehow I got lost on the horizon of my own addiction and forgot that I was seeking. And just became content being numb. It was easier. It was just my life. What I did every single day. I didn’t have to seek God anymore, I just got hammered and that kind of took care of that.
When I finally cleaned up my act, I was so shocked that there was this spiritual aspect that seemed so central and necessary. I remember being dumbfounded. I remember being like, “dudes, I cannot stop drinking, and God isn’t going to help this situation one bit. Nice idea and all, but seriously, I need help, not religion!”
And I was right and wrong. I didn’t need religion but I did need belief. I needed something to believe in that was bigger than me. At first it was the people in recovery. They seemed to be doing what I could not, stay sober. Then they failed me. They were involved in themselves and often off and away when I was having a meltdown. I remember the night vividly when I sat in the parking lot of the Applebees and realized that humans were always going to fail me. It was a hard moment, but that hard moment opened the door for me, just a little to see that perhaps, I did have an internal spiritual malady that only faith and belief might heal.
That was a very hard and long night. I remember getting home and pacing the floor most of the night. All jacked up on sugar and caffeine. Trying to sort through this sudden realization that I had spent my early life seeking God and then wholesale abandoning that idea for something else, booze and people. And then used both like only a good alcoholic and codependent can. I used them both so completely that when I hit the recovery or die wall, I was so shocked that God or spirituality might be part of the equation for salvation.
What the actual fuck?
I felt like I had been tricked. I mean I spent all this time in childhood feeling like something was missing, sitting in houses of worship of various and sundry ideas and theologies, but found nothing but doubt and some really fucked up people. People who beat their wives and children in the name of the Lord. People who wrecked their lives all week but put on their holier than thou hats come Sunday and showed us all who was righteous. It made me sick.
I can remember sitting in a church one Sunday, alone because my parents wouldn’t go and were not interested in anything that smacked of religion. I am sitting there in the pew, watching all the people and seeing at least some of them seem to become lighter, like you could see the light filtering out of them as they became more a part of the light, the heaviness and darkness seemingly lifted out of them. Now this was not all the people but I swear to God I saw it.
And so I returned Sunday after Sunday, searching for that for myself. That would solve the internal spiritual malady that I suffered from so greatly…except I never found it until the day that I had that first drink. That was the day for me that the light came, and the darkness was beaten back a bit. Not in a church or any house of worship, no, for me, it came in a tiny bodega that served my teenage self a double rum and coke. And as I knocked back that drink I had my first spiritual experience. I felt the presence of God and I felt fine within my skin for the first time ever…
So of course I abandoned my religious search and instead began searching for booze wherever I might find it. I quested it and was successful in my plight more often than not. And I began to imbibe as often as I possibly could because with each sip came relief from this internal prison that held me captive, chained to ideas and feeling about myself that plagued my every breath.
And that worked for me until it didn’t.
So funny that when I arrived on recovery’s doorstep, I was told that I would have to find a God that I could do business with, and that right there almost kept me from crossing the threshold. That thought, that idea almost killed me dead as I hovered between life and death. So odd that something I so willingly sought in my younger years, became something I avoided like a plague right when I needed it most. But to me, this is alcoholism…this is how it works. It takes all your ideas and turns them on their head so that up is down and down is up and you as a person become so very, very lost, from everyone to include yourself.
But I can see now that I suffered greatly with that internal spiritual malady and it would have killed me had I not found just a tiny bit of willingness and open-mindedness to examine, to really take a hard look at how I was living and how my thinking was killing me.
Today I know that I still have this internal spiritual malady. The ism never really leaves. It is kind of like kudzu in the south…you can hack the fucking shit out of it but tomorrow it is back almost like you never did anything to ameliorate it at all. And so it goes with internal spiritual maladies apparently.
So I began, begrudgingly for quite awhile, to begin a course of daily attendance to this internal situation and guess what? I got better. First in tiny almost imperceptible ways. But then I started making great leaps and bounds. I began to recover. I reclaimed that child who sat in the pew and so wanted to get beamed up! She returned to me but we never found ourselves sitting on a pew again. That didn’t really work for us. And for a long time, we kind of hated that it worked for anyone…but then we grew the fuck up and became happy for those it helped and stop resenting the fact that it never worked for us.
And today I can say that I am blessed to have a deep and meaningful spiritual life. God and I take long walks in the woods together or sometimes we commune on a coastal shore. Sometimes we spend time in meditation together. But always I find God when surrounded by other drunks like me. I can look around a room of us and see God in every face. I can see the light rebounding or I can see it fading. And so I try to help…but I don’t oversell it because I know first hand that pushing too hard with a drunk can almost assuredly kill them.
Instead I have learned to just show up and attend to my own spiritual needs and share that journey with those who ask or show interest. That is all I can do. Take what I have learned and continue to show up and offer my experience, my strength and my hope to those about me. And pray that we all get another day in the light, one day at a time.